But the president’s introductory remarks were the last time the pandemic was mentioned during Thursday’s Q&A. Over the next hour, not a single one of the masked and socially distanced journalists assembled in the East Room asked about it.
Instead, Biden was asked at least 10 times about the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, which has lately dominated news coverage, and been portrayed as a major crisis for his administration. (Some immigration experts say the migration numbers match a seasonal pattern and the coverage is overblown.)
Several reporters pressed Biden on whether he would pursue filibuster reform, and he fielded a smattering of questions on voting laws and gun control, North Korea, Afghanistan and China. After two reporters from CNN and CBS News tag-teamed Biden with questions about his reelection plans, the president of barely two months blurted in frustration: “Oh, come on. I don’t even think about it.”
Biden’s first formal news conference took place on a day when hundreds of Americans died of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, as they have on every day of Biden’s presidency and for nearly a year before it. More than 547,000 people have died and more than 30 million have been infected in the United States since the pandemic began.
The press corps’ evident lack of interest in the subject didn’t go unnoticed.
“It was sort of striking to me there wasn’t a single question about the pandemic,” CNN’s Sanjay Gupta said on air.
“The failure to ask a single question about covid is remarkable,” tweeted the New Yorker’s Susan Glasser. “By any standards, a fail.”
“What a ridiculous failure by the press corps to focus on the issue that the vast majority of Americans care about most,” tweeted Tommy Vietor, co-host of “Pod Save America” and a former Obama administration official.
The website Talking Points Memo noted that White House aides retweeted some of these criticisms, and a deputy communications director for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested that the Democratic Party’s pandemic relief measures were too popular for the press to take an interest in.
Biden waited for more than two months after his inauguration to hold a news conference, longer than any of his predecessors in the past 100 years. Since he announced the event earlier this month, commentators had speculated furiously about how the new president would perform.
But presidential news conferences also serve as venues to judge and criticize the White House press corps — or at least to interpret the reporters’ priorities from the questions they choose to ask.
Biden took questions on Thursday from reporters with The Washington Post, Associated Press, ABC News, Bloomberg News, CBS News, CNN, PBS NewsHour, NBC News, Univision and the Wall Street Journal. He appeared to consult a list of names in front of him before calling on each. And the president gave long, detailed answers — right up until the moment he announced, “Folks, I’m going,” and abruptly left the lectern without calling on several other journalists in the room, including New York Times reporter Zolan Kanno-Youngs.
Kanno-Youngs later told The Post he had planned to ask about asylum, white supremacist and militia-based extremist violence, and the minimum wage.
“Biden snubs Fox,” read a chyron on Fox News moments after the news conference ended. It was the only major television network that wasn’t called on during the event, and correspondent Peter Doocy appeared above the chyron holding what he called “a binder full of questions” he didn’t get to ask.
He said at least one of them would have been about the pandemic.